3 min read

Thoughts on Tradition

I have always been a poison to Tradition.

This is the time of year when Tradition rears its head the strongest. It sits at the dinner table and insists on being served. It is often a mere Habit, dressed in the uniform of Tradition, but we don’t call it that. We have always done the thing this way, and so we must always do it this way, uncritical and unquestioning: this is what we pass off as Tradition.

I have never been good at this last part. I have spent much of my life as a Holiday Problem, because I have never been comforted by Tradition. I suspect that this is a Queer Thing™. Traditions weren’t made to protect me, to serve me, to support me; they are for other people. The idea that we must continue existing the way we have been existing is an idea that supports those who are already pleased with the way things are. These kinds of people desperately need to believe that the things that have Always Been will Always Be, because that is the only thing that protects their comfort. The moment we start to ask questions, their comfort is at risk.

Tradition values their comfort above all else, and this is how I know that Tradition is not made for me.

Generally speaking, I do not break bread with those who think that it is just and good for police to kill civilians, or who think that there should be laws about who uses what restroom, or who say “I’m not racist, but…”. If I find myself in the company of such a person, I am not inclined to hold my tongue for the sake of their comfort — I do not see a reason for them to have a pleasant meal while I swallow the hot coals of their hatred, their cowardice, their hatred.

But at this time of year, Tradition demands that we all do precisely that. Come and sit at the table with me, Tradition says, and with this person who would ridicule your pronouns if they ever thought to ask about them. Give a gift to this person who owns the kinds of guns that killed your queer brothers and sisters in Orlando in 2016. Don’t talk politics, which really means Don’t raise a fuss if they say something monstrous. Just swallow those hot coals and be nice for one night. Don’t cause trouble. You’ll ruin it.

I hate Tradition. I hate what it does to us. I hate what it makes us do. I hate how it grips us by the don’t-you-love-your-family and shakes us around until we are limp and broken.

I hate it, and of course, I long for it.

Because Tradition, at its best, reminds us of who our people are. It tells us where we come from and where we’ve been and where we want to go. Tradition strings the year together, dropping buoys of certainty into the dark waters of each passing month. We are so afraid to celebrate ourselves and each other, our love, our accomplishments, the beautiful lives that we make together and share with each other. We are afraid to ask for affection and tenderness, for gifts and dinners, for remembrances.

Tradition makes it so we don’t have to ask. Tradition gives us ways to love each other without having to endure the terrifying ordeal of asking to be loved in return, in equal measure, with equal demonstration. When Tradition is not habit in disguise, when Tradition is not a boot casually resting on the throats of the vulnerable, when Tradition is relational and intentional, it can be beautiful.

I am forever walking through the garden of my life and pulling Tradition up by the roots, pruning it back where it is crowding out the beautiful things I want to thrive. But I am also quietly planting new seeds, hoping that they will flourish. Hoping that they will grow differently, and bloom beautifully. I never learned how to properly tend to Traditions, and so they often die as tiny, hopeful, neglected sprouts.

But maybe, someday, things will be different. Maybe we will choose the things we do based on our love for doing them, rather than our need to protect the reputations of the past selves who chose those things. Maybe we will turn swords to ploughshares, and Tradition will become a tool rather than a weapon.

I will keep weeding, and keep planting, and I will wait patiently for that day to come.